“Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post–9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. At once powerful and tender, Americanah is a remarkable novel of race, love, and identity by the award-winning writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.”
This is not a traditional, in depth review because it took me two years to finish it. Why did it take me two years? Well, I was first introduced to Americanah back in 2014/2015 (my sophomore year of college). I was taking an Understanding Africa course and Americanah was our text. I read quite a bit of it, but I didn’t finish it. As college students know, some class assignments aren’t as crucial as others. So I didn’t need to finish the book to write a 3-5 paged paper. So, about a year later, I stumbled across Americanah in Barnes & Noble and decided to purchase it. I don’t know why I kept putting it down after I’d finish a few chapters. Maybe I was tired of re-reading familiar pages and was waiting for the moment I’d reach a new chapter. Who knows. But nonetheless, I finally finished it a few days ago and here is my overall thought:
Intersectionality at its finest!
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, I need you to do a quick Google search of Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term. There are Ted Talks and articles of her giving examples and better explanations as to what it is. But, paraphrasing, intersectionality is the interconnectedness of multiple oppressive factors of an individual that cannot be separated. For example, I am Black (a minority) and a woman (minority). However, as a Black woman, there are issues that I may face that may be overlooked or go unnoticed due to my race or my gender. Although I don’t believe I have ever been discriminated against because I am a Black woman, I cannot speak for the experiences of others.
Now, how does that relate to Americanah? As Ifemelu begins a new life in America as a non-American Black, she learns what it means to be Black for the first time, and as a Black American reader (myself), the culture shock was interesting to read. Adichie tackles issues of race, gender, class and identity within the U.S., the UK, and Nigeria (that’s intersectional as fuck!) I think that’s what’s very interesting about Americanah: it’s written by and for the non American Black. Not to say that anyone outside this group won’t understand, but they may find Ifemelu’s transition into U.S. culture a bit slow and resistant.
However, as she takes on a new hobby of blogging about race, she’s learning how heavy it is for Black Americans. Her posts To My Fellow Non-American Blacks: In America, You Are Black, Baby, A Michelle Obama Shout-Out Plus Hair as Race Metaphor, and What Academics Mean by White Privilege, or Yes It Sucks to Be Poor and White but Try Being Poor and Non-White tackle race, class, gender, and identity politics and they’re deep. They’re no more than a page and half, but they give great insight, so imagine what all 588 pages discuss.
I won’t get into the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, because I think the novel is much deeper than their relationship (although their connection to each other is important). If you’d like to have a conversation about their relationship, please feel free to comment. Let’s discuss!
All and all, I think Americanah is a really good way to grasp a new understanding of the U.S. from an imigrant’s eyes. It’s definitely a learning experience.
Have you read Americanah? What were your thoughts?